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Author: brownmom

A Certain Kind of Guilt

A Certain Kind of Guilt

There is a certain kind of guilt I have. I’m not always aware it’s there, but I am reminded of it often. Too often. It surfaces when I am helping my daughter comb through her light brown curls, and in the background, I hear someone on the radio talking about a black child who was killed by police. The guilt comes on strong when I stare into my daughter’s grey-green eyes as I tuck her into bed, only to return to my computer where I read about another black man whose hands were in the air as he was shot by the police anyway. I feel the guilt when I see my daughter in a swimsuit, her perfectly tanned skin an acceptable shade of brown- a shade white girls would pay for- and I think of black girls at a pool party being manhandled by police. The guilt is there, too, when my daughter wears her favorite hoodie and I am reminded of overzealous neighbors with guns who patrol the streets in search of black boys.

The truth is, what I really feel is relief, but this kind of relief is inseparable from guilt.

My daughter is free to move about her world. Her white skin offers protection that she is no more deserving of than anyone else, but it is there all the same. It’s a matter of luck, I know, that things will be easier for her because there are already systems in place that make it so. There have been occasions when my brownness went unnoticed and I was assumed to be white, and at those times I also benefited from those systems. But unlike my child, I can’t hide my black quite as easily. The white of me did not prevent one of the kids in my Girl Scout troop singling me out as “the chocolate one.” It did not stop a classmate from looking disgusted as she told me I had “big lips like a black person.” My daughter is white so she will not have experiences like these. The black of her does not show.

Relief.

Guilt.

Like most mothers, I want to spare my child from heartache. But it is as wrong of me to feel grateful for my daughter’s skin color as it is for blacks to be killed because of theirs. I know this; this is where the guilt comes from. I am not sure what this guilt says about me or the kind of parent I am. I am not sure this guilt serves any purpose at all. I just know the stories of racial injustice are circular, apparently without end, and yes, sometimes, I shamefully allow myself to retreat into the safety of her whiteness.

Starting school & Starting over

Starting school & Starting over

Shortly before my marriage ended, Simi decided she would like to go to public school. She has only homeschooled, and although that hasn’t always been perfect, it is something that has worked well for us, and definitely suited her introverted and overly-independent personality. Today, I dropped her off at school for the first time. I am grateful that it was her decision to go to school because, of course, the divorce happened, meaning she was going to end up there whether she wanted to or not. And I am equally grateful she was assigned to the school we most wanted, a place where she already has friends. I’m sure, like homeschooling, it won’t be perfect, but it’s really the best case scenario for the situation we find ourselves in.

About that situation, though…

I want to be happy for this moment in our lives, this big change that really marks the start of something new for us, but I just can’t. Every beginning is an ending of some kind, and I just can’t get myself into a celebratory mood when it’s such a blatant reminder of the end of my marriage. Yes, it was my kid’s decision to attend school, but it’s the divorce that makes it so she will have to stay there. Whereas before she could have “tried” school and gone back to homeschooling, now it’s what she has to do. It’s the same reason she quite suddenly had to take on twice as many household chores when her dad moved out.

I want to be clear, I am not at all against my kid going to school or having to do housework, those things themselves are not the issue. The issue, quite simply, is divorce is really, really hard. There’s a big difference in being able to be deliberate in my decision-making and having decisions made for me, and, in turn, forcing my child into situations in which she has zero say. It may not be rational, but I think it’s likely I will never stop feeling guilty about putting my daughter through this. I can’t think of a part of her life that hasn’t been touched by this divorce- whether it’s adjusting to new weekend and holiday routines, or learning to live with a lot less because there’s not as much money to go around- and it just makes me feel awful.

Last night, I overheard Simi talking to her dad on the phone. He had called to wish her luck on her first day of school, a gesture that made me happy and sad at the same time. I am really glad my kid has the kind of dad that thinks to do those things, the kind of dad that still takes fatherhood seriously. Still, I couldn’t help but think, It’s not supposed to be like this. 

It’s been well over a year since everything fell apart so I am sometimes surprised when the sadness hits. I don’t know if all of the major losses in my life have snowballed into one gigantic one, making it harder for me to move on, or if the end of my marriage is just harder to accept than all of the others. I do know, however, that it takes as long as it takes and there’s really no way to speed up the process. I have no choice, really, than to let the grief unfold regardless of how long and excruciating it feels. Truthfully, I feel mostly OK most of the time. If I’m not happy, I am at least hopeful. In spite of everything Simi and I have been through in the last year, we are still in pretty good shape, both ready to start over together.

 

 

 

Writing: My Small Act

Writing: My Small Act

Dallas broke me. I wanted to write about it when it happened. I tried to write about it, but each time I sat at my keyboard, I froze. Dallas is the city where I was born, the city where I spent my weekends as a teenager, and the city I returned to a few years after my mom died because I felt confused and lost and needed to be somewhere that felt like home. I thought it would be easy for me to write about this place that is so dear to my heart, but I couldn’t; I could never figure out what to say.

When Dallas police were being targeted, I watched the chaotic reporting on TV, while reading first-hand accounts on Facebook from friends who were caught in the midst of it. I suddenly began to feel the same way I did in April of 2013, when the city I now call home was under attack. I remember it well, how I tried not to cry when my daughter came inside to excitedly share how many helicopters she had seen flying overhead, and how I had to tell her the truth: there had been an explosion at the finish line. I remembered, too, how I couldn’t hear sirens for weeks, maybe even months, without being reminded of that day when we were told to stay inside because we were not safe.

This repetition of tragedies paralyzes me. It fills me with the worst combination of dread and fatigue, a pairing that causes me to shut down almost completely. This repetition of tragedies reinforces my belief that sometimes knowing what’s coming is much worse than not knowing. For the past few weeks, I have been stuck in this place of deep sadness, feeling helpless, and trying, in equal parts, to care and not care.

If I’m being completely honest, it’s not just the events of the world that have led me to this place. Personally speaking, July seems to be cursed. July is the month that marks the anniversary of my mom’s death, and the same month when, one year ago, my marriage came to an end. This past July brought an abrupt and unexpected end to a friendship, and also revealed the fact that my daughter, who seems perfectly fine on the outside, is still having a really difficult time dealing with the divorce. And that is to say nothing of the overwhelming bouts of loneliness I have been experiencing. These are not huge problems, I know.  They are my problems, though, and trying to make peace with them while also trying to accept the fact that I’m stuck in an unjust world feels like a huge task.

I’ve been feeling so hopeless I thought maybe I should give up this blog and give up writing altogether. What difference does it make if I write? Who cares what I have to say? I don’t really seem to be able to stop, though. Whether that’s a sign that I am a “real writer” or not, I can’t say. I just know writing is the only way I have of making sense of anything, whether the words come easily or not.

I keep thinking of the Sunday after we learned about Dallas and Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I went to church that morning because I needed to be somewhere I felt safe and welcome, and I wanted to be with people who are committed to ending racism and violence. During that morning’s service, I listened, with tears streaming down my face, as our minister read comments from a video she posted online of people in our neighborhood participating in a Black Lives Matter vigil. That simple, short video had an effect on people. I had forgotten that seemingly small acts can impact people in big ways, and this is what I keep returning to when I think about whether I want to keep writing this blog or not.

It’s not that I necessarily believe my words are powerful, influential, or even all that good. But it’s something I can do, and I think there are times when the things I say resonate with others. Quite possibly, this blog, although not significant by any measure, is my own small act, affecting people in ways I may never be aware of. With that in mind, I have no choice to keep at it. I’m a lazy blogger, to be sure, and that’s not likely to change. Continue, I will, though, and I thank you for reading.

For Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

For Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

“And there seemed to be no way whatever to remove this cloud that stood between them and the sun, between them and love and life and power, between them and whatever it was they wanted.” -James Baldwin

Today I woke up confused. In my foggy, sleepy state, I turned on NPR, as I do every morning, and I heard about cops killing a black man under (to put it mildly) questionable circumstances. But this was the same news I woke up to yesterday; this didn’t make any sense. Then it dawned on me: this was a different story. Different, of course, only because the names and location have changed. Otherwise, yes, the story was exactly the same.

I know it’s important to speak out. I know silence is acceptance and I refuse to accept this. My level of helplessness, however, increases every time I hear the words “black man fatally shot by police.” It’s a terrible exchange, this fear and despair that is given life anew for every black life unjustly taken.

I think I don’t know how to speak out anymore. I wanted to write about these two men, Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile, to honor them in some tiny way, to voice my outrage and sadness.  But there isn’t anything new for me to say. The story is exactly the same.

Last year, while grappling with my feelings over another murdered black man, I wrote this piece. I’m reposting it today because I can’t figure out what else to say.

 

The Thing About Black Men In This Country

The thing about black men in this country is that you were taught to be afraid of them. It’s the best kind of teaching, the kind where you have learned something when you weren’t even aware you were being taught. You didn’t know that every time you saw a black man playing the villain in a movie this was part of your lesson. You didn’t know you were learning when your mom, while driving with you in the car, made sure the doors were locked when she saw a black man nearby. You didn’t know when you watched Cops on TV, sometimes even laughing at it, that you were telling yourself, “This is how black men act.” You didn’t think, when you saw them rioting, that they damn well had something to be rioting about. No, by this time you had already learned what they were: Uneducated. Lazy. Thugs. Gang bangers. Drug users. Scary.  Sure, it’s fun to watch them play basketball, but you better cross the street if you see one when you’re walking home at night.

The thing about black men in this country is that they were kidnapped from their homes. Enslaved. Beaten. Sold. Names stolen. Kept from being educated. Kept from their families. Kept from earning wages. Hanging from the trees with less concern than the morning’s laundry hanging on the clothesline.

“But that was over 100 years ago,” you say.

“They need to get over it,” you say.

“If they would just stop harping on the past!”

The thing about black men in this country is that even when we told them they were free, that was a bald-faced lie. Freedom came in not being allowed to vote. Freedom came in being told where to live. Told where to work. Where to eat. Where to shop. Even where to shit.

The thing about black men in this country is we made sure they knew their place. We made sure they knew they were worthless. Made sure they dare not have the audacity to pretend they possessed any dignity.  “You keep your head down when you’re talking to me, boy.” We made sure they knew they could be falsely accused of the most mundane crime, and would still be handed over to the white man like some first place trophy from a catch-the-darky game.

“But, oh, that was so long ago,” you say.

“Things are different now,” you say.

“We have a black president!”

The thing about black men in this country is that they start out like the rest of us, loved beyond measure by their mamas. They turn into those cute little boys- you know the ones who prove how un-racist you are because you couldn’t possibly find them so adorable and be prejudice- then they grow up and get killed by the police. Or chained to a truck and dragged down a road in Jasper, Texas until their head snaps off. Or they get shot up by some white man because they invited him in to pray.

“They should just cooperate with the cops,” you say.

“You should see the statistics for black on black crime,” you say.

“But those white men were mentally ill!”

The thing about black men in this country is that we gave them the lowest possible standards for living and the highest possible burden for proving that their lives mean anything.

The thing about black men in this country is that we will continue to fail them over and over again, and then force them to take the responsibility.

The thing about black men in this country is that they cannot continue to live like this, stuck in this world of seemingly never-ending racism.

The thing about black men in this country is that we can, we must, do better by them. This country will not be whole until we do.

Orlando

Orlando

I’m not intentionally staying silent, it’s just that I don’t have the words.

I don’t have the words for the guilt I feel over allowing myself to become desensitized to this kind of news, and how when I first heard it was 20 people I thought, “My God, that’s terrible,” before going about my normal routine.

I don’t have the words to express how foolish and embarrassed I feel that for some reason when the number became 49, that made me cry, like there is a certain number of lives that have to be taken before my grief really kicks in.

I don’t have the words for the shame I feel for being so blinded by my own privilege it took me a moment to understand the significance of the murderer targeting GLBTQs. (I am heterosexual and don’t have to think about these things.)

I don’t have the words to describe why I can’t go to one more vigil or rally or protest because they don’t inspire me and make me feel connected anymore; they make me feel tired and hopeless.

I don’t have the words for the level of disgust I feel over the hypocrisy from people who call themselves “prolife” yet won’t even do so much as engage in a conversation about gun control measures.

I don’t have the words to explain how entirely unfair it is that we are once again asking Muslims to prove themselves worthy of their right to be here, which is something we never ask of white men when they kill.

I don’t have the words to describe how I feel so defeated I have given up thinking anything will change. If the slaughter of 6 and 7-year-olds does nothing, how am I supposed to believe we will somehow care more when it happens to brown-skinned gays?

I don’t have the words to express the level of rage I felt when I saw a friend share an anti-Muslim opinion piece on her Facebook page, along with her own words: “Do not let the media and Liberals distract you with the fact that a gun was used, or of the sexual orientation of the target,” as if the facts don’t matter, as if it’s better to create our own narrative so we don’t have to admit the truth about the kind of people we have become.

I don’t have the words to say how relieved I am that my loved ones are safe, how this could have easily happened to one of them. It could have been me, even, as there was a time, in my younger days, when I spent my weekends in gay clubs because they were welcoming and made me feel safe.

I don’t have the words for the despair and anxiety I feel because I know it is only a matter of time before the next massacre comes.

I don’t have the words to tell the GLBTQ people in my life how much I love them, never in spite of how they identify, but because they are entirely glorious just as they are.

I don’t have the words to express how much desperation was behind my need to take my daughter in my arms last night and, through tears, tell her she will never have to hide who she is from me.

 

 

 

I’m not intentionally staying silent, it’s just that I don’t have the words.